THOUSANDS of people throughout Dorset are expected to take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch event this weekend.

Participants are asked to spend an hour noting the highest numbers of each bird species in their gardens or local outside spaces, then submit their results online or by post within three weeks.

This data is used by the RSPB charity to help paint a picture of how well garden bird species are doing across the UK.

The RSPB is expecting around half a million people to take part in the survey this year, which for the first time since 1979 will also include data on other garden wildlife.

Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: “Winter has felt more like autumn for many of us and this could have had a significant impact on the number of birds in our gardens.

“Birds come into gardens for food when they cannot find it in the wider countryside but if insects and berries continue to be available long into winter, numbers visiting gardens may be down.

“The Big Garden Birdwatch will be really interesting this year and will be a good indication of just how much the weather affects their behaviour.”

Last year’s survey showed the most common birds in Dorset garden were the house sparrow, blackbird and blue tit respectively.

Bird experts are interested to see if the ‘helter-skelter’ weather conditions experienced across the county this year will have affected bird populations.

This year the RSPB also wants to know if people see deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads in their gardens.

Schools are also invited to get involved in this year’s separate Big Schools’ Birdwatch event, taking place between January 2 and February 14.

Visit the website for more information on this weekend’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch event.